This past week an article in Ars Technica caught my eye that detailed the monetization realities behind Xbox Live's Indie Games. The outlook was rather grim. Most titles are struggling to break even, and even "successful" publishers consider the response lackluster. One publisher in particular cited a move to the PC as a hopeful pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
The talk of the indie side of core gaming got me thinking. To be honest, other than the few critically and socially acclaimed titles here and there (I'm looking at you, "Minecraft"), I'd almost forgotten they were still there. But in defense of my absentmindedness, there were other shorter-form, lower-budget games demanding my attention: mobile and social games.
That same week Nielsen released a study indicating iPhone owners spent on average nearly 15 hours a month playing games, and that over 90% of app downloaders cited games as a download worth paying for -- the highest of any app category. While not not necessarily groundbreaking when compared to the time and money spent by a core gamer, these numbers are impressive when considering the volume of smartphone users and the growth vectors for the devices.
In truth, after considering the price point consumers have deemed appropriate for tablet apps, indie game developers still targeting traditional platforms exclusively make little sense. I think of a developer such as thatgamecompany, developers of the acclaimed "Fl0w" and "Flower," and wonder at the untapped success they might have on mobile platforms. Many of the games featured at E3's Indie Game Showcase would likely have brighter futures on mobile platforms than on XBLIG or the PC.
Mobile games seem the closest in content to the majority of indie games. Social games require an entirely different blueprint to be successful. And while the mobile app marketplace is synonymous with oversaturation, the overall quality of the games being offered still has room to grow. Sure, these days the top games available tend to come from emerging studios (or mobile branches of core studios), but indie developers who have cut their teeth in core marketplaces seem to have a very deep understanding of game design and the necessary dash of originality to stand out.
Personally, I'll be surprised if the core channels of indie games still exist in five years time. And in the meantime, I expect many developers to catch on, and have TBA titles focused on their initially targeted platform and mobile/tablets. I just hope some of those developers have the foresight to target Android, which, from my read of the Nielsen data, is the platform with the greatest potential for growth and the least content saturation (given potential demand).